#8 – gun violence is not a punchline

In a local Walmart, a woman with special needs has abruptly and unfairly had her job as a greeter terminated. This woman’s story has quickly circulated around everyone’s Facebook feed in our area, and found its way into our building’s halls. I was listening in on a conversation that a group of older teachers were having about it this morning.

“It’s horrible, really, that Walmart would do that”

“Yeah, I heard it’s because they used to get a tax-break, and now they don’t”

“Well – this is why people shoot up places.”

This is why people shoot up places.

Laughter circulated the group. “Well – don’t go shooting up the Walmart.” More laughter.

“I won’t. I wouldn’t want to get fired.”

At this point they got interrupted and the conversation was over.

This is why people shoot up places.

The teacher says, this is why people shoot up places. 

We are educators, charged with the impossible task of helping to turn hundreds of children into informed, caring, well-rounded adults. We work in an environment in which gun violence is discussed regularly. We have School Improvement Days in which we spend four hours with a retired SWAT officer, who makes us run drills using air soft guns about how to fight an active shooter. I flinch each time I hear my door open when I’m not expecting it. Sometimes I hear shrill elementary school screams coming from the gym and my body stiffens with dread as I think that it is finally happening to me.  I have nightmares about a gunman shooting up one of my classes. The weight of gun violence drags down my heart constantly. I fear that I will have to have to stand in front of a bullet for a student. Or worse, that I won’t have the courage. 

There is one topic, as a teacher, that I firmly and whole heartedly believe, should never be joked about.

Gun violence.

Why was it necessary for this teacher to take a completely valid issue of importance in our community and relate it to gun violence? Why was it necessary for him to laugh about it? Why did all of the the other people in the conversation (all educators!) join in? I am the new kid of the block. I am the quiet young teacher that most people don’t know very well. I said nothing. But I can’t stop thinking about how I wish I could have had the wisdom and courage at the time to start a conversation about it.

How can we expect our young people to treat this matter with the gravity that it deserves when the very role models they look up to every day laugh about it.

If it was our children that were the victims of these horrendous crimes, I know these teachers wouldn’t be laughing.

“After first graders were gunned down at Sandy Hook, what did you do? Not a damn thing. After 49 people, including my two brothers, were murdered at Pulse, what did you do? Not a damn thing. You plugged your ears and turned your eyes and hoped that we would stop talking. Now we’re here again. 17 people are dead. 14 of them are children. And what did you do yesterday when given the chance to do something about it? Not a damn thing.”

– Brandon Wolf, Pulse nightclub shooting survivor, in Tallahassee (After MSD Parkland Shooting)

Advertisements

#7 – orange observations

I cannot think of anything to write today. It could be writer’s block. But it also could be due to the fact that I am a hardworking teacher who is used to putting all of her focus into her job and I can’t turn that off.

What can I write about. Hundreds of instances with kids and teaching and school swirl around my mind. But I do not want to write about school.

I want to keep my job off of here. I want to reserve this space for the rest of my life. My life that isn’t teaching music.

So instead I’m going to write about an orange slice.

An orange, like a person, is filled with membranes.

The outer skin is stretched and pulled tight around the contents nestled inside. If you are careful enough, you can tear away the outside without puncturing the tiny capsules, perfectly fit into one another and formed to hold shape.

If you squeeze the slice just a little too hard, it may burst. The fragile, nature-built balance thrown off. Juice may begin to seep out onto your fingers. It will drip on the table.

The fruit is held together by a series of strings and membranes, just like anything, really.

It goes into the body, becoming a part of another strange bit of organic matter.

Is this profound? No.

But I still think of it, and now write about it.

#6 – some fear lingers

I was in a car accident when I was sixteen. I think about it often.

I drive 27 miles to and from work every day . The road that I take is a two lane highway, winding through the hills and valleys of the Driftless landscape. This is an area near the Mississippi River Valley that was untouched by glaciers. I have learned to love my drive through these hills. Each turn has become a part of the way my brain activates in the morning. The trees lean over the side of the road, coaxing me forward. This road eases me awake.

Yeah, but not today.

If anyone has been looking at a radar map lately, it is probably widely known that winter storms have pelted the midwest, week after week after week. I have been off of school 9 days. I wake up this morning to at least 4 more inches of snow, but no call off of school. My chest throbs with dread as I brush the wet, heavy snow off of my car.

You are fine. You will not die. If you end up in a ditch, you will be fine. You will not die.

The words repeat in my head over and over as my gloved hands grip the wheel harder and harder until my wrists burn. I curse the lightness of my little silver car. I curse the front wheel drive. I curse the fact that I am so completely powerless over the flakes that are zooming towards me, distorting my vision. My eyes well up. I blink.

Don’t cry. Focus.

I need to take a turn. I fishtail, my car making grinding sounds. The lights flash. I am not in control.

Deep breath. Go slower.

But visions of me spinning out of control, hitting a pole, hitting another car, turning over a ditch, my head hitting the glass window, my airbags going off, the car filling with smoke, I can’t breathe, pain shoots up my side, I still can’t breathe, my arms aren’t a part of me, oh yes they are, am I alive? What is going on? How do I get out?

Fear doesn’t go away. You are okay. The road is caked in snow, only a faint hint of the lane divider remains. Am I driving in the middle of the road? A semi-truck zooms around me. I am going very slow. Its okay. Don’t go faster than you feel comfortable. Only you know your car. I feel ridiculous for letting this fear take hold of me.

I cannot take a full breath. I try not to cry. I should have called for a sub. Going to school isn’t worth my life. You are not going to die.

You are not going to die.

You are not going to die.

Well, I didn’t die.

#5 – description of a place – my living room

The walls are are all white, and the blinds stay shut. I am on my own, after all, and I am fearful of people peering in. On the floor is a large rug. It is full of abstract two dimensional squares and circles, winding through and around each other. The design looks like a maze, but it does not connect anywhere. The colors, muted oranges, blues, pinks, and greens soften the stark white of the walls, and bring some kind of life to the dark hardwood floors.

Next to the rug is a single recliner. It was given away at a garage sale – I didn’t even buy it. It has old brown wrinkly skin, and an imprint from years of people sitting in it. The back has a few punctures in it, the brown material torn away at the edges to reveal clean yellow insides. A dog’s favorite chew spot, the woman told me as I loaded it into my car many months ago.

Across from the recliner, and on the other side of the rug is a TV. Small, and given to me for free. This TV has a temper, and it requires patience. Bump it ever so gently after turning it on, and the screen will sliver into darkness, not to be woken for at least another week, despite all futile attempts. Just when I am huffing and puffing enough to consider buying a new one, I try and turn it on again, and it works! Magnificent. Just as good as new. And so the cycle repeats.

Next to the TV is an acoustic guitar. The high E string is snapped, and the instrument sits crooked on its stand. All of the remaining strings  have slowly gone a half step flat. Buy new guitar strings. That is somewhere on the list of things I’ve been meaning to do.

Around the floor are whitish streaks from the salt left on my shoes when I lazily leave them on as I stumble in, exhausted, after work. I tried to Swiffer it away just last week, but it spread the whiteness more than it cleaned anything. I will probably try again this week.

Next to the recliner is a small black foot stool that opens up. It has one fleece blanket inside. That blanket is not very warm. On top of it are some food stains. Pasta sauce? Tomato soup? Definitely something that should have had a real table to be eaten, but I opted for the footstool. I attempt to cover up these stains with a single coaster that stays there permanently. The coaster says on it, simply : caPUGccino. On it, is a pug in a mug. Cute. It was gifted to me.

The rest of the space is empty. No wall decor. No other housewarming placeholders. Do I even live here? It may seem unlikely. This apartment does not feel like a home to me, but I am here. For the foreseeable future. The thing is, life isn’t glamorous unless you make it that way.

Maybe someday I will have the energy to do that.

Day 4 – A Glance Back at My Recent Past

How can you stay enthusiastic about the every day?

Write about it. Turn every moment into something that is a little bigger than what it seems. Suddenly, the world you live in – the bland, repetitive world becomes one worth living in.

I am horrible at writing a blog. But at the same time, I always turn to writing when I run out of steam for every other aspect of my life. It is the thing I can rely on – the thing that I always come back to.

A while back, I bought a little moleskin notebook. My intention was to write a real entry in it every day.  It was a very trying time in my life when I bought this book. I had lived in a new town for months and hardly had any friends. My teaching job was hard and repetitive, and I would cry every day. My days turned into a big mess of waking up at 5:15, driving my 40 minute commute, working, crying on my 40 minute commute home, watching three episodes of Gilmore Girls until I felt less sad, swipe swipe swipe swipe on Tinder until I felt despondent, go to bed at 8:30, and repeat. repeat. repeat. The months flew by this way, it was a grayish haze that I could live with.

But I would see people around me living lives full of family, and activities, and adventures, and fun, and anything and everything, and my heart would sink with the most melancholy envy.

Now, my life has changes significantly since those months. The Tinder swiping led me to a date, which led to more dates, which led me to a boyfriend, which has led me to more friends and people, which has led me to spend time doing the things normal 22 year olds do. I couldn’t feel more thankful that this is happening. (Finally!) However, I also happen to me in the midst of a relentless winter, which puts me off of work day after day after day. So I have a lot of time to think.

About my relationship, now a few months old. Inching out of the constant excitement, and into the routine. About my job. Which most of the time I hate. About the town I live in. Which most of the time I hate. About my body. Which most of the time I hate. About my mental state. Which I feel is teetering dangerously on the edge of the dark places I found myself in while I was in college. What can I do to make this feel better?

So – here we are. These are the thoughts I am digging through as I dig my car out of a snow drift for the tenth time this winter. I want to be content, but I never will be content.

I want to write, so I will try. I need to be creative. Music used to be my outlet, but it is my job now, and I can’t use it the same way I used to.  I need to view the world again, and turn even the less magnificent places and activities into something worth thinking about. So I will try again to write here. For myself.

Day 3 – First Year Teacher – Visualizations

 

Job Opportunity In (Anonymous City) Public School System 
Scenario 1:
I walk into the room on the first day of school, with confidence. I feel a wave of assuredness as the seats have been placed neatly in their arcs. I am wearing my favorite blazer. My hair is combed back. I have prepared the room perfectly. An objective is written out on the board in my neat handwriting, and a “Welcome Back” message is projected on the board. 

I ooze confidence. I’ve done this before. I am teacher. The kids walk into class. It is their first day of band – they are excited to be here. I am excited to be here. I introduce myself. I am teacher. Make a joke. They laugh. They like me. I get serious. I talk about procedures, and class expectations. A student interrupts me. I raise an eyebrow, and gently remind student of the rules. “I love for you to talk – but only when you raise your hand first”

I continue instruction. I am teacher. I am respected. The students look at me with eyes that are shining. Their mouths are slightly agape. They are practically scratching at their instrument cases, bursting with eagerness to start the first day of band class. Do they know how to play? No. But I am confident that I can lead them to. I tell them this. “Soon – every one in this room will be a maestro” 

Scenario 2
Chairs are scattered around the room. I try and get the students attention. I clap my hands. They aren’t in first grade anymore… No response. I try yelling, but my voice feels shrill and camouflaged amongst the chatter. Trombone player in the back has his instrument out of the case, and the metal clangs on the floor. Trumpet player is throwing pencils and trying to make a ‘basket’ into the tuba bell. Saxophonists are pretending to strangle themselves with their neck straps. The flutists are sitting nicely, looking annoyed. At me. 

Kid in the back of the room has friend in a headlock. No. He is using said friend to beat the bass drum. “No! Stop! What are you doing?!” How do I control this mess? I walk to the back of the room and give a stern direction to the kids, and they look at me, smile, and continue banging. Now I look to the front of the room, and there are the clarinet players, writing on the front board , “Ms. Mac can suck my dick” 

I feel my nose begin to tingle and then run because of the pressure of my held back tears. How can I do this? How can I organize this chaos? Why don’t these kids like me? Why am I not good enough? Do they realize that I am a human? Do they realize that this hurts me? 

Can I ever be good enough?


Todays adventure brought to you by: 

A horrible fear of my first year of teaching

and

The exuberance that I feel because I know I have landed in the right profession and I couldn’t be more excited to get my feet wet

 

 

Day 2 – Tales from a CPR course gone (slightly) awry

There are 7 people sitting around the table, in the following order:

Teacher #1, Day Care Professional Woman with Pink Shirt On, Hot Male Nurse, Average 50 Year Old Woman With No Reason To be In the CPR Class Other Than The Goodness of Her Heart, Hot Female Nurse, Teacher #2, Young Serbian Engineer, Older Engineer With Hip Round Glasses.

Me – I am standing in the front of my class anxiously willing my phone to load the pdf of my certificate allowing me to be there. You see – We were supposed to print it out before coming to class. I didn’t have a printer at home (Classic excuse! I learned that in middle school!)

“I had it open before I came here!” I say, to the round table of gentle sneers, laughing at my youngness. My lack of preparation. Laughing in disbelief that I could be qualified to teach!

Hot Male Nurse makes eye contact with me. I do not want this. “Is it still not working?” He asks me, gently. As if his horrible, attractive, kind face that was speckled with freckles, and blushed over with the sun, could make my current situation better. I shake my head. If it was working I wouldn’t still be standing up here.

The instructor, a black woman in her mid-forties raises an eyebrow at me. I shrunk a little, more than aware that I was wasting her time. “All you millennials are the same!” She said, with a chuckle. “Never prepared.”

Great. Now I have failed my generation.

Teacher #1 chimes in. “I’m a millennial. I was prepared.” She is blonde. Her hair softly cascades around her shoulders. A soft chuckle spreads across the room like wind rustling through a tree.

Thank you.  I’m glad you made that clear. 

I am still fumbling around, hoping in vain for my phone to get service. My hands are sweating. They feel sticky and they sting ever so slightly. My fingers feel fat and clumsy. Every movement that I make feels thought through, and in-turn, judged. I shift in my feet. I feel my shorts pinching at my stomach. My hair is slipping out of it’s ponytail. This moment, so small, but so unfamiliar feels like it is weighing me down with embarrassment. I think about leaving and coming back another day. That is probably what I would have done, if it wasn’t for the $90 that I paid to be here.

I look up, and I see on the wall right in front of me there is a small flyer. On it is a wifi password. Relief flows into my body through the tip of my finger on my phone screen. I hurriedly connect to the wifi.

I show the instructor the certificate and she smiles, and tells me to take a seat. I clutch the pack of first aid materials she gave me, anxious to get this class over with.

The rest of the class was fine. Now I can officially and legally save a life. So I guess that is worth it…

 

 

 

 

 

Day 1: Bruised Shins

I am not a climber. I do enjoy the outdoors.  I do enjoy running and hiking and walking and adventuring. I very much enjoy the idea of climbing, a human against nature. So periodically, I will take a stab at the activity in one way or another. Today, it was climbing a boulder. This boulder sat in the middle of a grass clearing, beckoning me, in its own silent, idle way. It was no taller than me, and its rock skin was soft and worn from many years of sitting in a clearing and beckoning people to climb it. So, I listened to its call, and scampered to the top of it.

Scamper is actually a terribly inaccurate verb to describe what I looked like while scaling the large stone beast. I stood at the bottom of the rock, and attempted to lug one clumsy leg over the top, as if it were a horse. However, a rock of this size is no tamable beast, and my leg quickly came flopping down as a I realized I was going to have think of a different strategy. At this point I noticed a handhold at the top, so I went on my tip-toes and clutched the small divot with both hands, feeling the cool sandstone poke its way into my fingernails. From here, I was able to squirm both of my legs onto the side of the boulder, so I was standing in an awkward squat on the rock only about 6 inches off of the ground. Using the strength in my arms, and I was able to hoist myself upwards enough to throw my left leg over the top of the rock. Unfortunately, this mean I banged my shin against the side of the boulder with about as much force as my leg had. Damn, I’m going to have a bruise. 

But I had made it. I stood up, my legs wobbling in protest to this experience. I tried to ignore their uncertainty and put my hands on my waist, inhaling deeply.  Why did I feel this satisfaction from my perch five feet off of the ground? Why was it that the early spring breeze smelled a little sweeter up here? I let my thoughts plateau as I lingered in this place of still solitude. However, my pulsing shin and the quickly darkening night sky made me realize that I no longer had a place on this boulder. In a slightly more graceful manner, I shimmied down the rock and began the walk towards home.

I cannot be the only person that hold a deep inward desire to poke my newly developed bruises. As I write this, I am hyper aware of the light gray welt that has begun to on the very front of my left shin, because every time I take my fingers away from this laptop keyboard, I poke at the purple mass until my nerves endings cry out and tell me to please please stop. Maybe I do it to remind myself of that boulder. Maybe I just do it because the option to do it exists. It doesn’t matter, really. The bruise exists, and tomorrow it will probably grow even more.

Next time I decide to scale a boulder, I hope to come out unscathed. But if I don’t, hey-at least I’ll have another tiny adventure to tell.